Well might Imran Khan, the leader of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, gloat over the party’s victory in the elections to the Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) Legislative Assembly. Equally, the PTI will have to contend with the allegation of Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N that Pakistan’s ruling party ~ given its inbuilt resources and support from the Army ~ had indulged in widespread rigging and violence.
The allegations have provoked the federal Information and Broadcasting minister, Fawad Chaudhry, to remark that the PTI’s “splendid win” was testament to the “common man’s unwavering confidence in Prime Minister Imran Khan”. Not many will readily concur with that perception, however. Not least because of his portfolio in a fractious Pakistan, the Minister was duty bound to echo the perception of the government in Islamabad, helmed by Khan.
“The opposition needs to revisit its politics and leadership, as people are not willing to accept Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari as their leaders,” he tweeted. Apart from the vote in a sensitive region, the verbal tussle has been pronounced in a swathe of territory under Pakistan’s control and on the periphery of India.
Small wonder India has been opposed to the electoral exercise in the disputed Gilgit-Baltistan region. At least in terms of rhetoric if not votes as well, the tussle is intrinsically between the PTI and PML-N. The PML-N’s information secretary, Marriyum Aurangzeb, was quoted on the party’s Twitter account as saying that “25 July 2021 polls in [AJK] were a replay of 2018 [general] elections,” which her party has long maintained were rigged.
“The PML-N was leading till the count of the common man’s votes, but when it stopped, vote thieves took the lead,” she said in a series of tweets. If the PTI had won after garnering the votes of “the common man”, the PML-N would have been genuinely happy and even congratulated the ruling party”. And then the electoral punchline ~ “The common man does not vote for those who sold out Kashmir” and those responsible for “the rising prices of essential commodities in the country”, she said, alleging that “Prime Minister Imran Khan has unwavering belief in stealing votes.”
The PTI will almost certainly respond to this below-the-belt tirade. The verbal duel between the two parties has transcended the certitudes of psephology. The violence is testament to the volatile character of PoK. Vitriol and exchange of heated words from politicians has been at the centre of the aggressive election campaigns.
Ever since 25 June ~ when the PPP chairperson, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, took the lead over opponents in launching the campaign of his party from Dadyal, followed by PML-N vice president Maryam Nawaz and federal ministers Ali Amin Gandapur, Murad Saeed and PM Khan ~ to July 23 when the campaign ended at midnight, the electorate heard nothing but allegations, counter-allegations and the usual mudslinging at rallies.
The verbal duel led to violence and clashes on election day, with at least two PTI workers killed in a clash with PPP activists at a polling station in Kotli district. The election symbolises the fractious nature of parties and politics in Pakistan.